Published18 hours ago
“It’s been a great year to be a gamer.”
This year has seen one of the strongest videogame line-ups in quite some time.
But what if you’re a game maker about to release your most personal, ambitious project yet into the world?
Sam Lake, creative director at Remedy Entertainment, says it’s a “thrilling” time but also a nervous one.
The studio’s about to launch Alan Wake 2, the follow-up to its 2010 cult classic supernatural adventure about a writer whose words can reshape reality.
After a few false starts, the title character is back 13 years later, with a darker story and survival horror gameplay seen in titles like Resident Evil 4.
But for a long time, it looked like it wouldn’t happen.
Sam, who wrote and co-directed the game, admits the “very personal project” is one he’s been wanting to make for a long time.
He’s keen to stress that, like all games, Alan Wake 2 has been a “team effort” but Sam, who also plays a character in the game, is the public face of the project.
Speaking to BBC Newsbeat via Zoom from a conference room at Remedy’s headquarters in Finland, Sam’s fresh off a “whirlwind tour” promoting the game across the world.
And with it being so close to the game’s release, emotions are high.
“I think that this is every creator’s agony in these moments,” he says.
“You hope that people will enjoy it and like it.
“But before it’s out there you have a certain amount of uncertainty as well.”
A sequel to Alan Wake was a hard sell at first. The original came out on Xbox 360 on the same day as Red Dead Redemption – Rockstar Games’ cowboy-themed mega hit.
Overshadowed by its rival, sales were slow and Sam says “there was no interest from publishers back then”.
But word-of-mouth built up and it eventually registered healthy sales. In the meantime, Remedy published other games including its 2019 hit Control.
So when work finally started on the Alan Wake sequel, it was time for Sam to release his “pent-up ambition” for the project.
It was also a chance to release his main character from the nightmare dimension – known as the Dark Place – where the first game’s cliffhanger ending left him.
He’ll have company this time in the shape of a second playable character, FBI agent Saga Anderson, who’s tasked with investigating Alan’s disappearance in the prequel.
She also acts as a vehicle for new players to discover the story of the first game.
In a crowded field, Sam admits Alan Wake 2’s original release date was pushed back 10 days to “get out from under Spider-Man 2”, which came out earlier this month.
Sam praises Sony’s major PS5 exclusive and other 2023 hits as “massive, massive, wonderful, wonderful games” but insists Alan Wake 2 isn’t “directly competing” with them.
It’s also a digital-only release, a decision Sam says owes a lot to Fortnite maker Epic Games, Alan Wake 2’s publisher, which runs its own online games store.
That’s kept the price of the game down but could be a risky strategy, as even though digital sales are more popular overall, 2023’s best-sellers so far have also been available in physical form.
The days leading up to Alan Wake 2’s release have also been consumed by conversations about the demanding specs required to run the game on PC.
When talk turned to console performance, Remedy’s PR chief Thomas Puha moved to reassure fans they would be “positively surprised” by the results.
Some reviews suggest it pushes hardware to the limits but Sam, who insists he’s not a “technical guy”, remains optimistic Alan Wake 2 will override those concerns.
“I feel confident, from the perspective of what we have created, that it has a lot of originality to it,” he says.
“And it is a very unique experience in many different ways.”
Unique experiences are something Remedy’s become known for since it was founded 28 years ago as a much smaller operation.
Their breakout hit, Max Payne, established its tradition for single-player action-adventure titles with a strong narrative focus.
And despite being billed as a survival horror title, Alan Wake 2 has lots of Remedy touches that its makers hope will set it apart from other games.
It contains a “film’s worth” of live-action story sequences, and players experience its dual narrative through the eyes of both Alan and Saga.
FBI profiler Saga has a “Mind Place” – an investigation room with a case board like the ones seen in many thriller movies.
From here players literally piece together clues and new information, opening up new missions and stories.
Sam describes this as a “key part of the interactive storytelling” and “giving players the fantasy of ‘I am solving this case, I am a detective'”.
“But we also wanted to find methods of interaction and gameplay where the player can, in a very concrete way, be engaged with the story and piecing together the story and solving this mystery,” he says.
But Remedy’s also known for its sense of fun, quirky little touches that round out its worlds.
In the Alan Wake universe, coffee plays a surprisingly large role – part of the sequel takes place in Coffee World, an abandoned theme park based around… you guessed it.
And the hot drink also provided the unique inspiration for Sam’s TikTok account.
Where most game developers might post trailers, screenshots or progress updates to their feeds, Sam’s is full of videos of him taking sips from a mug or travel cup.
Sam says it’s been “surprisingly popular” – so much so that, unlike his previous viral marketing attempts, he says he won’t stop once Alan Wake 2 comes out.
When Sam speaks to Newsbeat, he apologises for being “off-brand” and without a mug of coffee by his side – but says he’ll get one straight after the interview.
And while he’s drinking, he might reflect on the last 13 years, and on finally getting to create the sequel.
“Looking back with all of those frustrations along the way, I am very happy that it didn’t happen before, that it only happened now,” he says.
“There’s been a lot of growing and a lot of learning through the years, and if the sequel would have happened back then we could not have made the game that we have now made.”